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Buffalo Dem fights to challenge Slaughter

Questions about an Erie County Supreme Court hearing on a congressional candidate are before the Appellate Division, Fourth Department.

More than 1,000 signatures on designating petitions for Emin Eddie Egriu, 48, of Buffalo, had been dismissed, knocking him off of the upcoming Democratic primary ballot. Egriu hopes to challenge Rep. Louise Slaughter, 81, who is running for a 13th two-year term.

Egriu’s petitions were challenged July 28 by Robert E. Brown, also of Buffalo, who claims many of the signatures were obtained fraudulently.

Victoria Dillon, Slaughter’s press secretary, said Brown is a committeeman of the Erie County Democratic Party and a Slaughter supporter.

Egriu’s attorney, James Ostrowski, at an Appellate Division hearing Wednesday in Rochester questioned whether the trial court had jurisdiction; whether Brown had presented sufficient evidence on the number of signatures validated by the state Board of Elections; whether the court abused its discretion in allowing Brown’s counsel to re-open the case twice and whether the court erred in allowing a staff member to explain the meaning of the state board’s ruling that was not in evidence.

Brown was represented by Christopher D. Thomas of Nixon Peabody LLP.


Egriu initially submitted petitions to the Erie County Board of Elections carrying 2,919 signatures to support his candidacy. A review by the that county’s board reduced the number to 1,323, to which Egriu did not object. Brown’s challenge to those petitions was taken to the state Board of Elections because the 28th Congressional District, which Slaughter represents, contains parts of four counties.

The state board reduced Egriu’s qualified signatures to 1,262 — still 12 more than the 1,250 he needed to get on the ballot.

That’s when Democratic party volunteers further researched the validity of Egriu’s remaining signatures and brought the matter to the Erie County Supreme Court, where Judge Timothy J. Drury conducted a hearing Aug. 9-11. After the hearing, Egriu was left with 1,017 signatures — 233 less than required to stay on the ballot — and he appealed.

A five-judge panel, led by Presiding Justice Salvatore R. Martoche, heard the matter Wednesday in the M. Dolores Denman Courthouse.

Ostrowski argued Judge Drury gave no explanation for his decision to invalidate the signatures, which Justice Erin M. Peradotto said was not unusual, since judges have such discretion.

Ostrowski accused Thomas of delaying the trial to bring in a witness from Albany, Robert Brehm, an executive director with the state Board of Elections, whom Ostrowski said did not present the number of signatures, 1,262, that had been found valid by the state, saying it was left in Albany. That, according to Ostrowski, left no proof in the record concerning how many signatures the state had validated.

Ostrowski is seeking a reversal of Judge Drury’s decision, dismissal of Brown’s petition and Egriu’s remaining on the primary ballot.

Thomas argued the supreme court has jurisdiction over the matter according to election law and that Egriu’s petitions were “so rife with fraud” that one witness testified she had not witnessed any of the people signing the 10 pages of signatures included in Egriu’s petitions. Thomas said the proceeding was stopped and an attorney was brought in for the witness, who then invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination.

He said another witness, Sam Rose, who had claimed to witness 16 pages of signatures, didn’t respond to subpoenas. Many of his signatures already had been thrown out by the state board.

In the supreme court hearing “the veracity of his sheets was repeatedly challenged by testimony and affidavits that signatures were forged and that addresses listed were either condemned houses or vacant lots,” Thomas wrote in his appellate brief.

“The trial court carefully reviewed the evidence before it threw out numerous fraudulent and irregular signatures, which brought the candidate below the minimum threshold,” Thomas said later. “If they’re going to let this guy get back on the primary ballot, they’re going to do so even though he is 233 votes below the minimum threshold and that’s something they can’t do, particularly in a case where there’s so much fraud and irregularities.”

In the hall

Outside of the courtroom, Ostrowski called the 28th Congressional District a one-party district that had been gerrymandered in such a way that could keep the Democrats in control.

“What’s boggling and what’s disturbing about this is all of her witnesses were from the Board of Elections,” Egriu said, referring to Slaughter, who is not named in the complaint.

Egriu said one of Brown’s witnesses admitted to being a Slaughter supporter.

“To me, I see other broken laws that she’s taking her own power to control a system that’s supposed to be for everybody,” Egriu said. “Is that Democratic? If she was so sure I had broken the rules, why would she hire the 71st more powerful law firm on Earth?”

He accused Slaughter of using taxpayer dollars to get his petitions thrown out, but Dillon said no one was paid.

“The folks that were looking at the petitions were all volunteers,” she said. “A lot were organized by the Erie County Democratic Committee.”

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